The demand of consumers for sustainable products is increasing: Sustainability is playing an ever more important role in the selection of products. But which products meet this requirement? And: What criteria does a sustainable product actually meet?
Interview with Manfred Stanek, CEO Greiner Packaging International GmbH.
Mr. Stanek, what characterizes sustainable products?
I think sustainable products leave behind a minimum ecological footprint. They are products that offer environmental, social and economic benefits in their entirety. It also seems important to me that the effects of material production, the use phase and the disposal of the respective product have been brought into focus. A food packaging that is produced from recycled materials, guarantees a longer shelf life for the contents and can be recycled meets these requirements. A medical device that requires little material, is safe and sterile to use, and prevents infections is sustainable.
Plastics have become the material of the modern economy. But the ecological consequences of our use of plastics are becoming ever more visible.
The consequences can undoubtedly no longer be ignored. One thing is important to me personally: Any one plastic packaging that is not properly disposed of and released into the environment is one too many. It is shocking that at least eight million tonnes of plastic enter the oceans every year. But even if some of the criticism of plastics is understandable: we are convinced there are environmental benefits of plastics. Those who want to combat global warming must see plastics as a solution as they reduce emissions. If plastic packaging is replaced by other materials, for instance, the burden on the environment usually increases. This cannot be our aim.
The majority of our consumption follows a make-use-dispose approach. It is obvious that such a system is not sustainable. What is the solution?
I completely agree with the thesis. As a global company, we have to think about our consumption habits. Part of our consumer behavior is obviously not sustainable and we need a broad social debate on that. I think we need to get rid of the make-use-dispose mentality. We have to ensure that products used by consumers never become waste but instead form the input material for new products. Creating an effective circular economy through better product design and recycling is crucial. I am confident that many companies have understood that and are developing new circular solutions.
In light of the increase in the world’s population, it is to be anticipated that the demand for products will increase further. This is obviously good news for companies – but what does it mean for the environment?
I think the challenge for almost all companies is to broaden their perspective. Whether in the automotive, health care or packaging industries: We have to ensure that, when developing products, we examine the environmental impact of the product over its total lifetime. In brief: we are talking about eco design. We at Greiner have made great progress here. Each individual product has to prove that it offers a sustainable advantage. Otherwise, this one product cannot have a future. For too long, we have only been concerned with ourselves by increasing the efficiency of production rather than focusing on the service life and disposal of our products. But that time is finally over.